How an Independent Contractor Can Set Boundaries with a Client

Setting boundaries with a client is an important factor in maintaining a professional working relationship. Boundaries are vital to protecting the integrity of the relationship between an independent contractor and the client. Alyssa Gregory is a small business collaborator and founder of the Small Business Bonfire, which is a social, educational and collaborative community for entrepreneurs. In a recent article, Ms. Gregory discussed ways to set boundaries with clients. This article will address those steps and provide an online resource for assistance with this process.

Advice from a Business Consultant

Ms. Gregory advises that there are five basic ways to ensure that an independent contractor can establish proper boundaries with a client. Her advice is discussed below.

Step # 1: Develop Comprehensive Policies

Ms. Gregory advises that it is important to develop a comprehensive policy for your contracting business. Once you have the policy set in place and begin to consistently implement it in your client relationships, your boundary lines will soon become like second nature to you. According to Ms. Gregory, there are some key areas where you need to implement business-wide boundary polices. She mentioned that it is a good idea to include these policies in your independent contractor and client agreement.

  • Product and service pricing, rates and discounts
  • Days and hours you are available for work
  • Billing practices and procedures
  • Expected general turn-around time for services
  • Procedure for requesting and scheduling meetings

Step # 2: Ensure Client Comprehension

Simply because you create policies for your contracting business, that doesn’t guarantee that your clients will comprehend them. Ms. Gregory advises that it is important to convey the policies to your clients in a way that they will understand and accept them. Not every contractor wants to include the policies regarding boundaries in the client contract. If you opt not to include them, Ms. Gregory mentioned that you could draft a document detailing these policies and include them in a welcome package that you give to new clients. Verbally discussing these policies is also an option. However, you will have to remember to keep track of which clients you’ve already discussed them with and those you haven’t.

Step # 3: Limit Exceptions to the Rules

As the adage says, there are exceptions to every rule. However, Ms. Gregory recommends that independent contractors need to limit the exceptions to those rules. If you allow too many exceptions, clients may begin to take advantage of you and cross over boundary lines. Of course, this may only happen with close, long-time clients. It won’t cause too much harm to bend the rules regarding availability and turnaround time every now and then. Ms. Gregory warned that contractors may want to build “exceptions” rules into their policies. These exceptions won’t be public knowledge or be included in any client documentation, but writing them down will help you make decisions on a case by case basis.

Step # 4: Maintain Open Lines of Communication

Open communication between independent contractors and clients is vital to making a success of cultivating professional boundary lines. Ms. Gregory shared that creating boundaries is a culmination of being open to discussing your margins with clients and answering any questions they may have. The advice Ms. Gregory discussed about communication is important. “Answering questions and providing a general idea of why you have that policy (without justifying it) can make your clients more willing to accept the rules you’ve laid out.”

Step # 5: Understand it is a Two-Way Street

According to Ms. Gregory, this last step is just as important as all the other ones. Independent contractors need to give the same respect to their clients as they expect to receive. Talk to your clients about their expectations regarding days and hours they are available, project deadlines and scheduling meetings. This is where clients can share their specific requests and you need to consider them with an open mind. Compromise is the key to every relationship, including professional business ones.

Resource to Assist in Developing Professional Boundaries is an excellent source for all things educational concerning business, the workplace and professionalism. They have a good resource regarding understanding professional boundaries—how to set them, stick to them and learn to compromise.  

Setting boundaries with a client is vital to cultivating healthy, strong and viable business relationships. Following the advice learned from business consultant, Ms. Alyssa Gregory, can help independent contractors in establishing their own boundary policies.


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